On Wednesday past, traveling to the outlying stations of Shortia, we took the opportunity to spend a few miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Of course the views were fantastic, but the roadside flowers were pretty special too. One of the plants that we spotted regularly was Small's Beardtongue, or Penstemon smallii.
We, the ASRT's, are always being asked to come up with short articles about plants from our collection/garden that are "underutilized" horticulturally; this is a wonderful plant that is available at many larger garden centers, but only usually in limited quantities. Its a one-shipment plant. If you don't get it early, they likely won't restock. It is a tough tough plant that is a great addition to a sunny border, perennial, or mixed, with flowers over a relatively long period from late spring to early summer.
This plant is tough as nails. You can see it at the Arboretum outside the front of the Administration Building across the sidewalk from the espaliered 'Curly Locusts'. It isn't the grape colored penstemon on the corner, but the bi-colored plant a bit farther down the sidewalk beside the bench. I planted these plants with my own hands a few years ago into newly chipped tree stump with a bit of soil. They were not even 1 quart plants, but large plugs; their size and the "soil" they went into would have meant certain death to most things, but at least half of these penstemons survived. This is one tough Native.